Viewpoint

No confidence in the NRC

November 27, 2013 

Well over 200 concerned citizens packed the room at a meeting of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on the evening of Nov. 20. They came to voice their opinions on the NRC’s Draft Generic Environmental Impact Statement and proposed Waste Confidence Rule.

The GEIS is an assessment of the environmental impacts associated with the continued storage of spent nuclear fuel after the closure of nuclear plants. The Waste Confidence Rule states that the NRC has confidence that, even though it has failed to figure out what to do with radioactive waste for the 60 years of commercial reactors, it will solve the problem “in time” to continue allowing the creation of more radioactive wastes.

The NRC is traveling to 12 cities throughout the nation to hear public comment on its proposed regulations, which the Federal Court of Appeals ordered the agency to revise because the NRC had no technical basis for asserting that current on-site storage practices in fuel pools and dry casks would be safe for the indefinite future. The court ruling also forced the NRC to stop licensing or relicensing any nuclear facilities until its policies were revised. The NRC has set a schedule to adopt its new Waste Confidence Rule within two years so that it can resume the issuing of licenses, even though its own staff declared it would take at least seven years to do an adequate job.

The vast majority of those who spoke expressed the opinion that Diablo Canyon is no place to store radioactive nuclear waste for the undetermined future, in large part because of the 13 earthquake faults that surround the two reactors.

Many urged the NRC to order PG&E to transfer the radioactive wastes into dry cask storage on an accelerated schedule, rather than leaving the rods in densely packed spent fuel pools. Some pointed out that the pools are vulnerable to accident or terrorist attack because they are not protected by thick concrete in the way the reactors are.

Fukushima was brought up as a warning and an illustration of the risks posed by nuclear technology. It was pointed out that the entire Pacific Ocean and the West Coast of the United States is seriously threatened by radiation from the out-of-control Fukushima reactors.

Sherry Lewis of Mothers for Peace took PG&E to task for using the terms “used” and “spent” fuel to imply that the energy in the fuel rods was depleted. On the contrary, the fuel has to be removed from the reactor core because the fission process has made it much more radioactive and unstable as elements not found in nature are created.

California does not need the electricity from Diablo, according to the independent system operators who manage the electrical grid that serves the state. A combination of conservation and increased use of sustainable sources of energy can fill our needs. Neither is nuclear power an answer to climate change, because it produces large amounts of carbon in the mining and enrichment of uranium and in the huge volumes of concrete used in construction.

San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace urged the NRC to scrap its Waste Confidence draft that is based on pseudoscience and unsupported assumptions. The NRC should shut down Diablo Canyon and all nuclear plants because there will never be a safe way to store the manmade radioactive elements for the million years the EPA declares them to be dangerous. This is an intolerable burden to pass on to future generations.

Linda Seeley and Jane Swanson are spokespersons for San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace.

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